Authors: Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn


This book addresses the paradox that we all value simplicity but are surrounded everywhere by complexity. The authors explain why complexity thrives in our lives and they offer practical tips to simplify everything. The authors, calling themselves simplicity warriors, argue that complexity impairs every facet of life, and is ‘…costing us money, undermining government and business, and putting our health and even our lives at risk’ (page 5). They say complexity ‘robs us of time, patience, understanding, money, and optimism’ (page 11). They book illustrates this with a variety of examples such as confusing phone bills, cumbersome insurance contracts, and vague medicines information sheets.


Complexity [1] by nerovivo on Flikr.
Complexity [1] by nerovivo on Flikr.

The authors explored the overpowering advantages of simplicity over complexity. They explored several key examples to illustrate this. These include the simplified practices at the Mayo and Cleveland clinics and the Kaiser Permanente (page 40). An illustrative process is Cleveland Clinic’s empathy-centred ‘10-4 rule‘ of staff-patient interaction (page 55). The authors also illustrates their point with more easily recognised examples such as the simple design of Apple products. To show that they practice what they preach, the authors used large and easily readable font throughout their book. With these and other anecdotes they show that ‘simplicity works-in business, in government, in life‘ (page 8).


Complexity [2] by Michael heiss on Flikr.
Complexity [2] by Michael heiss on Flikr.

Why does complexity thrive when simplicity is clearly better? The book explores this question in-depth. One of several reasons the authors proffer is that ‘…simplicity is hard to achieve‘ because ‘it takes work to organize, streamline, clarify, and generally make sense of the world around us’ (page 13). They argue that because ‘…complexity builds over time’ (page 33) it is difficult to eliminate. The book however reassures that ‘…even the most complex situations can be made simple when there is a genuine desire and commitment to do it’ (page 22). They emphasise however that simplification requires ‘dedication to clarity, honesty, discipline, and intelligence‘ (page 7).


Simplicity by Gabriel Lima on Flikr.
Simplicity by Gabriel Lima on Flikr.


The book proposes several solutions to the problem of complexity. At the core of this is the book’s concept of breakthrough simplicity which the authors advocate for all facets of life. They describe this as ‘…an approach to innovation that is rooted in finding new ways to make everything simpler’ (page 32). The book discusses the three components of breakthrough simplicity, Empathize, Distil, and Clarify, and they illustrate these with prominent examples such as Google’s search page, a reflection of the company’s focus on simplicity (page 80). The authors also propose many rules of simple design such as ‘whenever possible, complexity should be moved out of the user’s way and out of sight’ (page 87).


Green Blue by Gabriel Lima on Flikr.
Green Blue by Gabriel Lima on Flikr.


The book dwelt extensively on the major problem of complexity in communication. They authors offer suggestions on how to simplify documents, for example by using large fonts, bold type and highlighting to create emphasis (page 121). They discuss how data visualisation influences people’s engagement with documents (pages 124-127). With reference to the cognitive psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer, the authors discuss the concept of cognitive fluency and the advantages of using simple language (page 135). The book dispense several practical tips such as the use of icons and chunking to simplify the information put on drug containers and laboratory reports (pages 107 and 115).


The authors discussing simplification


The authors have shone a light on the pervasive problem of complexity and why it thrives. The book is well-written and easy to read. The authors make use of several relevant examples and anecdotes, and proffer practical solutions. The book’s emphasis on the consequences of complexity on healthcare is relevant to doctors.



The book focuses on simplifying communication and processes, and this is important for healthcare. It gives simple and practical tools to reduce complexity and I highly recommend it to all doctors.



  • Publisher, place and date: Random House,  Croydon, 2013
  • Chapters: 7
  • Number of pages: 237
  • ISBN: 978-1-847-94094-0
  • Price: £8.99
  • Rating: 5

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